Friday, January 05, 2007

Don't Jump

It had been a long and tiring day, as Jonathan Dover made his way to the bridge that spanned the Feague River. It was over a two hundred foot drop and a distance like that meant it was likely that he would not be able to survive a fall from the bridge. That made it perfect.

Jonathan had had enough. Life had been great; well, not that great, he thought. Well, it had been. Enough of that. What's next? If it's nothing, then that would be a treat.

Jonathan began tying a rope tethered to a large stone to his leg just for good measure. You could never be too careful. A fellow could hurt himself if he wasn't careful. He picked up the stone, took a deep breath, and looked downward into the raging waters below. He took another deep breath and heard a voice ask, "Excuse me?"

He turned around and saw a young woman approach with a bit of a flustered look in her eyes. "Yes?" he replied still holding the rock, "can I help you?"

"I was wondering if you had a cell phone. My battery went dead and my car broke down in the middle of the bridge. I was heading for the nearest..." she trailed off as she saw the stone tied to Jonathan's ankle.

"The nearest..." he began, "what?"

"Why do you have a rock tied to your ankle like that?"

"Like what?"

"And why are you standing outside the guard rail?" It should be noted at this point that people, in general, don't take the time to notice the little things like grown men preparing to jump off bridges in suicide attempts when much more pressing matters are concerned. Matters such as having indigestion, getting shortchanged at the register, and owning cars prone to breaking down - particularly in inconvenient places like the middles of bridges. Any matter, of course, was infinitely more important than anything else, provided that it was happening to you.

So, after being pulled briefly out her own universe, she realized that she had interrupted this man trying to end his life. Always being one to speak her mind, she quickly spoke up, "What the hell are you doing?"

"Oh, just standing here on this bridge with a rock tied to my leg. It's a good workout for the heart. You know, keeps you young. Helps you live longer."

Her eyes narrowed as she caught the hint of an acerbic wit.

"My name's Jonathan, by the way. And I don't have my cell phone with me. I didn't want it to get wet."

Her eyes narrowed even further.

"And your name is..."


"Beth. How nice. So, Beth, have you ever thought about getting married?"

"What? I don't think we know each other well enough to talk about such things."

"Well, I don't mind. In fact, I was just thinking about it myself."

"While getting ready to jump off a bridge?"

"Well, not then, just after you walked up. You know, life might not be so bad if I had a good woman. Someone to love. Someone to talk to."

"Are you trying to pick me up? Because if you are, I think I should tell you that I'm not keen on dating men that I meet on bridges trying to kill themselves. I've dated some real losers, but I think I can do better than this." The truth, of course, was in contradiction to her verbal sentiments. She had dated men much worse.

"Oh, well, bon voyage, then" he said as he lifted the rock, preparing for the plunge.

"Wait!" Beth screamed. She may not have wanted to date the man, but she hardly wanted to be the catalyst of death. "What is this, some sort of suicide blackmail?"

"Oh no. I just thought that maybe God was giving me an out. You know, trying to tell me that life was worth living after all. That sort of thing. Turns out I was wrong, so, so long. Heh-heh." Often the unexpected poet, Jonathan was taken to laughing at himself whenever he accidentally rhymed during prosaic moments.

"Wait!" she screamed again. "Why don't you walk me to the end of the bridge so I can call a tow truck. We can talk about things on the way."

"What sort of things?" he replied.

"I don't know. You tell me. You're the one who said you wanted to talk."

"All right then."

So Beth and Jonathan headed for the civilized end of the bridge and started talking along the way. Jonathan quickly untied the rope from his ankle and hopped over the guardrail. He extended his arm, offering an escort to the lady in distress.

"No thanks. I can manage," she responded to the arm. She couldn't decide which one of them was really in distress. She guessed that it might be both, or perhaps neither.

As they approached the end of the bridge, a Starbucks crested on the horizon. Rather than walking all the way to the horizon, they instead went to the Starbucks located at the end of the bridge. Beth made a call on an ancient derelict pay phone while Jonathan ordered them two espressos and a marble loaf and found a table. Always the gentleman, Jonathan paid for the exorbitant morsels with all the money he had as Beth made her way to the table.

"The tow truck is on its way," she said.

"That's nice," he replied.

They both took a sip of their drinks and then there was an awkward silence. Jonathan looked at Beth. Beth looked at Jonathan. Jonathan looked away at the walls and the decorations colored with a local flair. They were quite nice actually, he thought. Something you could really look at for some time.

"Uh-hum" he said with his throat. He took a bite of the marble loaf. "Well, here we are."

"Yes," she admitted. "So what was it you wanted to talk about?"

"Well..." he paused delicately.

"Does it have anything to do with jumping off a bridge, or reasons thereof?"

"Sort of. It's hard to explain"

"Try." she said calmly and smoothly. It sounded more like a statement of fact than a request.

"Well, I lost my job a coupl'a months ago. Then my girlfriend dumped me and kicked me out of the apartment - which was hers. For a while I crashed with friends, until they realized that we weren't really friends. I managed to borrow some money from my folks, but I can't make rent anywhere anymore and I'm in debt so far above my eyeballs I can't even see it anymore, kinda like the way you can't see the galaxy for being in it," he gushed. "The whole last year of my life has just been a great big clique, worthy of a bad novel."

"Excuse me?"

"You know, a clique, like when something's done to death. Those stories or sayings that everyone's heard a million times. That's me."

"I think you mean 'cliché'."

"Why? What does that mean?"

Beth sealed her eyes closed tightly. Ouch, she thought. Beth was a junior majoring in English at Lucas University. She positively detested it when people used words incorrectly like that. It wasn't an acquired trait or any sort of natural hatefulness, but simply an inborn feeling that cut against the grain of her soul. It was just wrong. If someone didn't know how to use a word or what a word meant, then that was fine, but please, she thought, just use it correctly or don't use it at all. As one might imagine, Beth was very popular.

Obviously, Jonathan wasn't dumb, only misinformed. This time she let it drop, considering that a pedantic lesson in vocabulary maybe wasn't appropriate for the suicidal. She wanted to pull him from the edge, not ram him over it. "Never mind," she said at last.

"So anyway, I just got up one morning and decided that I couldn't take anymore."

"This morning?" she asked nonplussed at possibility of the suddenness of his decision to end his life.

"No, it was a week or two ago." he replied. "I just hurt all the time. Not physically. I'm just so restless and I don't want to do anything, yet I can't do nothing. I'm going crazy and I have so much stress over all my pricking problems that I just want out. The easiest way looks like death."

"I don't think I could ever kill myself," Beth said, suddenly steering the conversation away from Jonathan. Beth was the sort of person who always saw the glass all the way full, even when it was completely empty. Even now, she thought it was fate or God putting her in this situation to help Jonathan. She supposed that a car breakdown might not be all bad if it saved someone's life.

"What keeps you going? How do you get up every morning an go on?"

"There's nothing else to do. I won't quit. I have to see what happens. As I watch, I figure I'll enjoy myself."

"That's easy for you to say. You don't have the problems I do," Jonathan muttered selfishly.

"Excuse me?" Beth challenged indignantly. "I have a crummy job at a book store where the manager and the customers treat me like dirt. I go to school during the time when I'm not working, eating, or sleeping. Even though I could think of no other major, I'm still not doing all that well in English. To round all that out, I have a lousy apartment which I can't really even afford, despite its said lousiness. Also, I tend to run all the men I love, or even like, out of my life. So, please save your selfish pleas for someone without problems. You know, that doesn't leave anyone!"

Beth had lost her cool. She had problems. How dare he, she thought. He may be suicidal, but that doesn't give him the right. He may do well to hear the truth. Or maybe he'll kill himself. Either way, she reckoned, it wasn't on hear conscious anymore. If it hadn't been for her, he'd already be dead. She tried and now she was done.

Beth was satisfied to simply walk back to her car to wait, but was simply too curious about Jonathan's possible response. Surely he couldn't rally from such a defeat.

Jonathan sat quietly for several unreckonable minutes. Beth waited.

"That doesn't sound so bad," he said finally and weakly. "But if it is so bad, then I don't understand why you want to hang around so much. I can't figure out why some people want to live forever when they waste the lives they have now just trying to occupy time. They want to live forever, but they really don't even live the time they do have. I don't feel like there's anything left for me to do, so what's the point? My life's not worth a damn any more, and I'm really tired. I'd like it to be over."

Beth didn't know what to say to this. In the shrine of her mind she too felt that her life was being involuntarily and inexorably wasted. She always thought that there was so much that she was capable of, yet here she was just struggling to get by in college and failing to convince a suicidal man to live. The conviction was almost working in reverse. Any doubts she had towards his seriousness about ending his own life were now vanished.

"I'm sorry," she recanted after recovering. "I do have problems, but it was wrong of me to judge you and your problems simply because other's have problems too. If it matters to you, then it matters."

"It's okay." Jonathan said sadly, but forgivingly.

They sat in silence again for a moment, both of them feeling the depression.

"The truck's probably here by now," she said after a time.


"Walk me back?"


They walked back to Beth's car where the tow truck hauled both the car and them to the service station. Beth's car was fixed and Jonathan waited with her patiently. They didn't say much to each other in all this time, but just kept company together. After getting her car back, in some fashion resembling working order, and paying the mechanic, Beth offered to take Jonathan back to wherever.

"Well, I suppose I still have the apartment for a few more days. I guess I can go back for tonight," he said.


She drove him there and let him out.

"Listen, do you wanna..." he began tentatively.

"No." she rejected. "But if you want to call me, you have my number. Don't jump. I'll have my batteries charged."

Jonathan gazed at her longingly before turning to go inside. "Good night," he said in farewell without turning back.

"Night," Beth bid.

And so Jonathan Dover headed back to his apartment and promptly went to sleep. He sincerely hoped that he would meet Beth tomorrow on the bridge.

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